Alternate nostril breathing is calming and focusing.
Ignore breathing exercises as you work toward fitness milestones in aerobic capacity, flexibility and strength building and you leave some important benefits on the table. Daily breathing exercises improve lung function, alleviate stress and anxiety, promote relaxation, help to increase endurance, deliver more oxygen to your muscles and cells and boost focus and concentration. Spend 20 minutes a day on yoga Pranayama and other breathing exercises to experience subtle and dramatic health gains.
Drop a few stress levels or head off an anxiety attack with a regular breathing practice that begins with 10 minutes of deep breathing, gradually increased to 20 minutes. Harvard Medical School suggests paying attention to how you habitually breathe -- shallow breaths, inconsistent breathing patterns -- and then breathing deeply and slowly through your nose to your lower belly, filling your chest and abdomen with air. Breathe out slowly and completely through your mouth. Place one hand on your belly below your navel and note that it rises on the inhalation and moves inward toward your spine on the exhalation. Create a daily stress-busting routine of breathing and imagery, sitting or lying down and thinking "breathing peace" on the long in-breath and "releasing tension" on the out-breath.
A study at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, published in the "Journal of Physical Activity and Health," showed that a 20-minute yoga session -- in which the poses were performed with regulated breathing and the routine concluded with deep breathing and meditation -- improved speed and accuracy on working memory tasks. These results were significantly better than test scores after the same time spent in aerobic activity. Pranayama balances your autonomic nervous system and positively reorganizes your brain's information processing. Nadi Shodhana is one yoga breathing exercise to include in your daily routine. Perform the alternate nostril breathing by closing your right nostril with your right thumb, breathing in through your left nostril, closing the left nostril with your ring finger and breathing out your right nostril. Then, inhale right, exhale left, closing alternate nostrils, and repeat the cycle three to five times.
Feed Your Muscles
Ten weeks of regular yoga practice with Pranayama breathing exercises will improve pulmonary function, and the amount of time spent doing Pranayama significantly affects results, according to a study of yoga training in healthy subjects, published in the "Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine." Breathing exercises strengthen your diaphragm and intercostal muscles, making you more efficient. You get more oxygen to your muscles and use less energy doing it, so you can go farther, faster and longer in recreational and competitive activities. The American Council on Exercise cites research showing that runners who do regular respiratory resistance training could shave three to five minutes off their time in a 60-minute race. SCUBA divers increased their underwater swim time by 66 percent.
Expand Your Mind
Breathing exercises are about more than just respiratory fitness. Pranayama means control of prana, or life force. The discipline equates to training in controlling energy, in all its forms. Exercises like Ujjayi breathing, the release of sound along with the out-breath, Kumbhaka, breath retention between the inhalation and exhalation, and Kapalabhati, a series of explosive exhalations, increase energy and shift consciousness from mundane concerns to a higher plane. Learn a progressive series of breathing exercises from a certified yoga instructor to strengthen respiration, boost circulation and metabolism and slow the chatter of the monkey mind. Use breath work to deepen awareness of your emotions and anchor your attention in the moment. Breathing exercises can put you in touch with the stable, serene experience of the subtle rhythms and innate wisdom at your core.